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Tuesday, October 30, 2007



As one who has "swum the Tiber" from the Southern Baptist Convention, I must say that the notion that Catholic priests do not do a good job expounding upon the Word hasn't been true for me. Often, I think people mistake enthusiasm and rhetorical skills for substance. Coupled with the three scriptural readings on Sunday, plus the homily, I've heard more Biblical Christianity in the Catholic Church than I ever did in the "Bible Believing" Baptist Church of my youth.

Francis Beckwith

Horton writes:

"According to Roman Catholic teaching, it is a serious error—heresy, in fact—to believe that we are accepted by God in Jesus Christ apart from any virtuous activity on our part and while we remain in ourselves actually sinful. Our meritorious activity must play some part in our final justification, according to both Rome and Orthodoxy."

Compare this with the Catholic Catechism:

According to the CCC, there is no meritorious activity that is ours. So, Horton is wrong on that count. Here's what the CCC states: "Justification establishes cooperation between God's grace and man's freedom. On man's part it is expressed by the assent of faith to the Word of God, which invites him to conversion, and in the cooperation of charity with the prompting of the Holy Spirit who precedes and preserves his assent." (CCC, 1993). If we walk away from God's grace, it is our fault. If we cooperate, it is by God's grace. This was Augustine's understanding, which would, according to Horton's theology, make the Bishop of Hippo a "semi-Pelagian."

Horton is locating the dispute between Catholic and Reformed sorteriology in the wrong place. It is not at the point of God's grace per se. The dispute is between infusion and imputation. That's where the action is.

Steve Walker

Thank you Carl for posting this. Knew of the discussion but have not had chance to read it. As a former Southern Baptist who left to journey to Antioch I can
honestly say these gentlemen "don't get it". Certainly there are those who leave
Evangelical circles without counting the cost, but I and the majority of my friends did so after years of thoughtful prayer, reflection and reading. The Protestant evangelical movement has serious structural flaws and is slowly losing some of its "best and brightest". Another reformation is not going to solve the problems. I am grateful for what I received in my youth in the SBC but, honestly, now I have gained so much more.


thanks Carl for the post and thanks Mr. Beckwith for chiming in.

I found these out of print books on the web and I thought I'd pass them on to you.

Luke Rivington was a convert to the Catholic Faith in the late nineteenth century. His books The 'Primitive Church and the See of Peter' by Luke Rivington (1894
and 'Authority'; or, A plain reason for joining the Church of Rome (1890)

Primitive Chruch:


Luke Revington:

Here's and excerpt from the Preface of he's 'The Primitive Church and the See of Peter'

...First, it would be easy to string together a most formidable array of difficulties quoted and examined by Catholic theologians in their great scientific works on theology. But it is obvious that I would be necessary to be a trained theologian, or to spend a lifetime in research, were it needful to give detailed answers to them all. Then there are works, like those of Dr. Litttledale (prominent anti-catholic apologist of the time) and others, written in order to blind and mislead; made up of calumnies, misquotations, and a calculated admixture of truth and error. These are often intended to shock and alienate the moral sense quite as much as the intellectual. If they do not finally succeed in this, at least they may succeed in creating perplexity, anxiety, and delay.

Now, instead of entering into a maze of objections, into labyrinth of difficulties, a shorter and more satisfactory course should be taken. Find the Divine Teacher, find the Supreme Shepherd, find the Vicar of Christ. Concentrate all ;our mental and moral faculties upon finding he Head of God’s Church upon earth. This is the key to the situation. The learned work to which these words serve as introduction is intended to aid this inquiry, by setting forth for this doctrine various of it’s reasonable motives of credibility. If only you find the Divine Teacher, you may leave all objections to the doctrines he teaches to answer themselves. And if you find him not, then answers to the difficulties brought against his teachings will go for little.
[The Primitive Church and the See of Peter - Preface, xii]

I'm a cradle Catholic however, as I read thru these pieces by Rivington, I can see how this approach (find the Church that Christ past on through the Apostolic chain...)would be a great place to start rather than first trying to answer all the objections and mis-conceptions.

Our Parish Men's group is completing a study on the Early Church Father's (Mile Aquilina's book) and we are excited to see the foundations of the Catholic Church present from the very beginning.

tim +<><

Paul H

That was a very interesting read! Two things struck me. First, Mr. (Dr.?) Horton seems to be slightly off the mark in his understanding of the Catholic view of salvation and justification, as Dr. Beckwith pointed out above.

Second, and more importantly, I was surprised at some of the frank comments admitting problems in Evangelicalism, and praising certain aspects of Catholic and Orthodox worship and belief. Some examples:

"The current rot within Evangelical subculture...."

"First, I have great admiration for both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox traditions."

"Hence, in spite of the genuine problems of Evangelicalism, particularly in the area of ecclesiology...."

"I certainly appreciate the frustration that many Evangelicals have with the movement’s informality and lack of substance. Rome and Constantinople offer more in the way of liturgy, ecclesiology, and even moral guidance."

"I recognize the attractions."

"One might hear more of God’s grace in the Mass or in John of Damascus’ The Orthodox Faith than in a month of Sundays in many Protestant churches today, even some of our own churches that are confessionally bound to teach otherwise."

"What you may well gain in Eucharistic worship and in prayer life, and even in some cases in biblical orthodoxy...."

I don't mean to pull the above quotes out of their context, since obviously each of these writers still sees reasons for remaining Evangelical rather than Catholic or Orthodox. But still, some of these quotes surprised me. I would be interested to know if the scholars/theologians quoted here are representative of mainstream Evangelical scholarly thinking, in expressing these views.


"...There is schism de facto in American Catholicism; the authority of Scripture and the rule of faith are more hotly contested by a substantial percentage of the Roman clergy than among even liberal mainline Protestants."

This rings true with my experience in the Diocese of Richmond certainly.


Count me among those young evangelicals who, while not reading any critique of Newman's on sola scriptura, was able to recognize on his own that sola scriptura is logically incoherent and abandoned it for that reason.

The assumption that converts to Catholicism haven't studied deep enough is more than a little condescending.


What strikes me as particularly interesting is the focus placed not on Christ's institution of the Church, not on any actual mandate of the gospel, and not on any discernible historical continuity more than 500 years old, but rather on the "Reformation." It tells significantly about the nature of Protestantism when its luminaries find the meaning of their modus operandi in a sixteenth-century tax revolt rather than in the particulars of the words they insist serves as the be all and end all of Christianity (or even the Word that really is).


I was shocked by Doctor Horton's comment that the Catholic Church rejects that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone. My understanding from my systematic theology courses was that Luther's faith alone failed to grasp the totality of the Church's grace alone--that all we have is given as a free gift of God via grace, including our desire to have faith and to do "good works" such as seek out reconciliation. If God weren't pushing me to accept sanctifying grace in the confessional, why would I bother going?

Thanks for posting this--and I'm happy to see Dr. Beckwith post since he was brought up in the article. (By the way, Dr. Beckwith, thanks for going on The Journy Home. My brother's left the faith, and some of your words on the show were helpful!)


Seems likely, also, that the radicalized difference between faith and works is not biblical. Faith is an entire way of life, not only a body of propositions to be believed.

Robert Miller

This is a very interesting thread -- interesting because most everyone seems to leave out the one important reason why every Christian (and everyone else, for that matter) should want to be Catholic.

The Catholic Church offers the seven sacraments and is, in fact, a sacrament herself. The sacraments, God's very Grace, are present in the world ex opere operato. Thus, whether one's initial motives for "practicing Catholicism" be the result of birth, lengthy "discernment", aesthetic attraction or sudden conversion -- all conditions known to and intimately experienced by St. Augustine -- the destination is more important than the route taken to it. Believers in Christ need the sacraments.

"Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ..." in sacramental Communion with (membership of) His Mystical Body. This is the fulness of the Christian life.

The seven sacraments are the "good works" that save, in union with the good works of the members of the Body of Christ in the world. If Christ is God, can anyone doubt that the good works of His members are holy and meritorious? The Word of God in Scripture comes from and belongs to the Word, Who became flesh, and Who remains in the world in that Body Whose visible form is the Catholic Church.


They need to read Louis Bouyer's great The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.

This DVD is also excellent:

Daniel Fink

"The dispute is between infusion and imputation. That's where the action is".
Amen, Dr. Beckwith. Man is created to "participate in divine nature" (2 Pt 1:4), to participate in Trinitarian love. With both a divine and human nature, Christ was restoring our justification while simultaneously revealing that which is necessary, through grace alone, if one is to possess the capacity to love as God loves in this life...the complete gift of self that images the Trinity.
God's fatherhood is as equally descriptive of Him as is His transcendance. However unitentionally, the fatherhood of God has been minimized in reformed theology.

Carl Hostetter

Horton writes: "Here’s how I would counsel such a person: Start with the gospel. The gospel creates and sustains the church, not the other way around."

Assuming that by "the gospel" Horton means "the written gospels" (i.e., a reference to _sola scruptura_), this statement is both historically and Biblically incorrect. The Gospels themselves plainly demonstrate that the Church existed before the Gospels were written down, and further that they were written within the Church, for the purpose of being proclaimed by the Church.


Jeffrey is right. Count the cost. And here is one major hurdle that must be crossed. Jeffrey’s last statement about “imagined” intellectual reasons goes to the heart of Evangelicalism. It is the “experience” that trumps everything. Some forms of Evangelical Protestantism even have an overt mistrust and antipathy of philosophy, the path of reason.

Karl Keating, in his book “Catholicism and Fundamentalism” investigates the Evangelical insistence on the “salvation experience” that many believe is a one time act that covers every sin before and after.
Keating draws out that the assurance of salvation touted by the Evangelical is much less objectively reassuring than the Catholic understanding of justification, for it depends upon that subjective experience. No doubt any such experience is real, and indeed it is not uncommon for devout and faithful Catholics to have a “conversion experience” as well. In fact, in his “Introduction to Christianity” the Holy Father (then Cardinal Ratzinger) points out that the Christian life in striving toward holiness is a long series of conversion experiences, as we are more and more conformed to Christ. The difference is that we don’t place all of our hope for heavenly glory in one such experience. Each person has their own particular needs and God knows how best to meet those needs. This process is dynamic and ongoing, or should be. And we believe that God has already standardized the path to union with Him, through the Church that Christ founded. Personal experiences, however valid, useful and instructive are called private revelation. What remains constant is God, His Word Jesus Christ, Scripture and the Church He protects from error. And that is motive enough, it seems to me, to go home to Rome.

But we can see how deeply embedded this dependence on personal experience is, when we witness some reactions from some Evangelical quarters to the recent revelations about Mother Theresa. Fifty years of love for and service to Jesus Christ without interior consolations indicates to some that she was never a Christian in the first place, or “saved” to begin with. We, as Catholics, on the other hand, stand in awe of a gift from God of faith so deep and strong as to “persevere to the end” as Scripture tells us, despite the long period of spiritual aridity.

But Mother Theresa should cause all Catholics to pause and reflect, particularly those who are finding themselves enamored of the “experience” paradigm of salvation offered by Evangelicals. Within this paradigm, as well, the charismatics are a subset, who have raised the benchmark of personal experience to include manifestations or outward signs and wonders as the true indicator of salvation within the realm of sola fide. This “experience” paradigm is the doorway that sola fide (and sola scriptura to some extent) have also entered the Catholic Church in some parts of the Charismatic Renewal. There have been attempts to theologically refit the paradigm to conform to Catholic theology of justification but in my opinion it is forever a mismatch as long as subjective experience holds pre-eminence.


Interesting and good to see them trying to be so charitable. But it's so wearying to see the same tired old misconceptions about justification coming out again from the lips of people who should know better. How many times must we tell Protestants that we don't believe we are justified by "virtuous activity on our part "?


As a convert from 38 yrs of protestantism to Eastern Orthodoxy for the past 10 years, may I add a very layman's viewpoint to the discussion? Had I continued to live in the community of my youth, I may not have been exposed to all the fractions of the protestant church that I found along the way, as we moved from one community to another, as our career paths mandated. While shuffling through the 'contempory' and traditional services' and the differing viewpoints of 'denominations' offered on the smorgasboard in front of us, we asked ourselves, "does the Church that Christ established in Jerusalem at Pentecost even exist today? If so, which one is it?" After a series of interesting 'coincidences', and a year of reading and study, we found that the Church was unified for over 1000 years, and that it was "Catholic". It is also structured and bits and pieces of it can be found in the protestant teachings, but not the entirety of Holy Tradition (oral teachings of Christ to the Apostles) and Holy Scriptures (a collection of writings selected by the keepers of the early Church to be used in and by the Church and the people). In fact, Luther, in his rejection of Rome's misuse of the Church during that time, can be credited for deemphasizing Holy Tradiiton (the link to the authority of the Church) and maximizing Holy Scripture as the sole source of worship. I visualize it as 'tearing the Bible from the hands of the Church and giving it to the laymen." Unfortunately, historical accounts of the era suggest that he was justified in his protest of Rome, but the persecution of the Eastern Church had silenced its voice (referring to the muslim occupation of Constantinople, now known as Istanbul), and so Luther was pretty much on his own. Although I believe that the Holy Spirit works through all who believe in Christ, I find it interesting that Christ didn't tell us that He was sending anyone other than the Holy Spirit to build His Chruch and explain it to mankind. Not Luther, nor Wesley, nor Calvin, nor Joel Olsteen. All well-meaning men who have had 'personal revelations' but choose to make a new church rather than grow within the structure of the Church (the Body or the Bride) established for us by Christ (the Head or the Bridegroom). But, could it be that man's ego has continued to separate us from God since the Fall?>Another thought, how does one choose between the Roman (West) Church and the Orthodox (East) Church? My basis was the knowledge that of the five governing Churches to be established (I apologize that I am not sure that these are the exact five, so please correct me) - Jerusalem, Corinth, Esphesus, Thessiloniki, and Rome - all but Rome remained united. >Another thought, America was born from an escape from the Roman (West) Church and the history that we are taught in this country is based on western facts and philosophy. Our knowledge base is lacking the Eastern perspective, which was the birthplace of Christianity. My protestant background provides me with the unfortunate understanding that many protestants don't even consider Catholics to be Christians, which illustrates America's fundamental lack of knowledge of the history of Christianity and the Church>Again, no scholar here, just a thoughtful search for Truth (capital "T" intended!)


I say its there opinion, because now a days things are happening that in Christianity one trade of people are changing to other and its in progress to so my answer is leave them to take there one decisions and fell that we all under one tree, one God that is Jesus Christ. Thanks for sharing this great post.

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